Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

Category: Love

No Christian can support the GOP’s attacks on immigrants and refugees

It is the duty of Christians to welcome and embrace refugees and immigrants regardless of where they’re from and what faith they hold. This is made clear throughout the Bible.

The Old Testament is full of exhortations to the faithful to treat foreigners and refugees with the same justice and compassion we would want for ourselves.

In Exodus, God commands the Hebrews not to mistreat or oppress foreigners:

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24)

This point is also made in Leviticus:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Deuteronomy tells us that God loves the foreigners who reside among his faithful, providing for their material comfort, and that the truly faithful are to love foreigners as He does:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Deuteronomy reiterates this point by cursing those who ignore the Lord’s command:

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

The books of the prophets continue to reiterate this central duty of those who worship God.

In Jeremiah, the we are warned against empty religion that does not fulfill the Lord’s teachings:

Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

Zechariah also condemns oppression of foreigners:

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ (Zechariah 7:8-10)

Malachi warns that the Lord will put on trial those who deprive foreigners of justice:

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  (Malachi 3:5-7)

The New Testament continues this theme. In Matthew we are shown that Christ Himself and His holy parents were themselves refugees in the time of Herod:

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  (Matthew 2:13-16)

And in His parable of the sheep and the goats, Christ makes clear the gravity of treating those in need, which certainly includes refugees, with a hard heart:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)

Upon those who live their faith through practical compassion He will bestow heavenly rewards, but those who turn away strangers Christ will likewise turn away.

Paul too speaks about the importance of welcoming strangers with open arms. In Hebrews, Paul exhorts us to show hospitality to strangers and to remember those, like refugees, who suffer:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2-3)

All this is reflected in Christianity’s central moral precept that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Luke 10:27). “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’,” as Paul teaches in Galatians 5:14, “for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law” (Romans 13:8).

Those who do not exercise practical love for their neighbor, even their foreign neighbor, even their neighbor who lives beside them without a visa, have renounced Christ and His teachings. It is to them that Christ says “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

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A Christian response to Syrian refugees

In the wake of the vitriolic opposition to aiding Syrians fleeing their ravaged and war-torn homes that has arisen in some dark corners of the American discourse, I feel compelled to address the issue from Christian perspective.

Syria has been locked in a grueling civil war since the latter part of 2011. Syrians of all religious and ethnic stripes have faced years of unending conflict and are largely trapped between the brutality of their dictator al-Assad, the horror that is the Islamic State. Thus they are fleeing by the millions, something I’m sure many American Christians would do if faced with such unrelenting violence.

In response to this humanitarian crisis, many countries, including the United States, have agreed to offer a new life to a portion of those escaping Syria. In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Paris, many, including some who profess Christ, have suggested that the right thing for America to do is to refuse to allow Syrian refugees into the United States or to add new draconian screening measures to our nation’s already thorough security screening. The question thus becomes, what is the Christian response to this crisis?

The answer should be obvious to any student of the Gospel. As Christians, we must offer comfort and aid to those in need, even when those in need are foreign, speaking a different language, practicing different customs, and, often, following a different religion.

For those who find this conclusion less than apparent, there are three Biblical passages that I think will be particularly helpful in clarifying Christ’s teachings.

The first is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:29-37:

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

The parable begins with a declaration of the core of our faith. We are to love God and our neighbor. Jesus then goes on to tell the story of a Samaritan who went out of his way to help a person in desperate need, making clear that the Christian response to another’s suffering is to show mercy.

What makes this parable all the more striking is Jesus highlights the righteousness of an outsider. Samaritans were, and are, a religious group similar to but distinct from Jews. Especially at this time in history, Jews and Samaritans would have viewed each other with enmity. Yet Jesus, speaking to a Jewish audience, shows the unrighteousness of a priest and a Levite while highlighting the righteousness of a man his audience would have viewed as inherently unrighteous.

Christ taught that mercy and compassion know no ethnic or religious boundaries. If a man who was not a follower of Christ could be an exemplar of Christian morality, then, as Christians, we must be even more merciful, for the Samaritan acted righteously without the teachings of Christ, but for those of us to whom much has been given, much is required (Luke 12:48).

Our duty to aid Syrian refugees is further reinforced by Leviticus 19:33-34:

 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

God demanded of the Israelites that they treat foreigners with justice and that they love the foreigners as they loved their own kind. This duty remains with all Christians today. We are required to love those who are different just as we love ourselves, for it is what God demands of us. Even if we view Islam as a false religion, even if we view it as an evil religion1, there is still no excuse for acting with mercy toward Syrian Muslim refugees.

Finally, we may turn to Matthew 25:31-46, where Christ tells his followers that those who treat the downtrodden with mercy will inherit God’s kingdom while those who shunned them will receive eternal fire:

 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Whatever we do to “the least of these” we do to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is hard to think of people more fitting of the designation of least among us than Syria’s refugees. After living under an oppressive dictatorship and facing years of civil war that has destroyed much of their homeland, they have been forced to flee. They leave behind their homes, their worldly possessions, their homeland, the graves of their loved ones and ancestors. They leave behind friends and family who cannot or choose not to flee. They leave behind all the horrors they have seen and a land whose custom, language, and religions were familiar for Turkey, for Europe, for America. They are met with new languages and new cultures. They are met with both open arms and open hostility in lands whose geographic, cultural, and political landscapes are often foreign and strange. They have chosen to become lost in the world because the world they knew was too terrible to endure. These truly are the bearers of Christ. Let us feed them and give them drink. Let us clothe them and give them shelter. This is Christ demands of us, for whatever we do to the Syrian refugees, we do to our Lord Himself and He will judge us accordingly.

 

 


  1. I am not proclaiming that Islam is an evil religion. I am acknowledging that among some of those who oppose offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees this view of Islam is sometimes held.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Icon

Martin Luther King, Jr. Icon

On this late January day, let us remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and all others who have struggled to live Christian lives and to bring the Kingdom of God to those who most need it. Let Rev. King’s example inspire us to work for the benefit of our neighbors, to better their lives and to create a better society for them to live in, because by acting out our love for our neighbors we are showing our love for God. The racial injustice Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. The economic injustice Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. The militarism and violence that Dr. King worked against is still prevalent. Let us take up his struggle, the struggle of many, many other people as well, and tear down the personal and institutional racism we see around us. Let us create an economic system based not on greed and inequality, but in line with the egalitarian spirit of the Bible. Let us beat our swords into plowshares. Let us do what God calls us to do and let water roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I will leave you today with a few quotes from Martin Luther King himself:

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human system it fail victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

The economics of Clement of Rome

Pope Clement I is one of the earliest Christian writers, outside of those included in the New Testament, to have any of his writings survive. He is alternatively listed as the second or fourth bishop of Rome by later Church Fathers and he offers us an important insight into the mind of the Church in the waning years of the first century. Only, one piece of his writing has come down to us today, his Letter to the Corinthians, also called the Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement. In it, among other topics, St. Clement discusses the proper Christian social order.

For St. Clement, the Christian community was one that focused on working together for the good of all. He writes:

37. Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage. Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

38. Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He has given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by words, but through good deeds.

St. Clement emphasizes the radical interdependence of Christian society. We are called to be subject to one another for the mutual advantage of all. We are called to share our wealth with the poor, to show our wisdom through good deeds, and to treat the weak and the powerful with the same respect and love. He does not describe Christian life as being driven by competition or the striving for profit, as the modern capitalist society is ordered. For St. Clement, proper Christian life is defined by unity, cooperation, and economic relationships that see to the basic needs of all people. The Christian life was not one of individualism, but one of community.

St. Clement takes special note of the plight of the poor and the weak when he offers up this prayer:

We would have You, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick heal; the wandering ones of Your people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; (59)

Here, St. Clement is calling on God to aid those in affliction, pity those on society’s lowest rungs, to help those in need, to heal the sick, and to feed the hungry. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to infer that these are the very things we as Christians should do.

For Pope Clement, social concerns were not merely an issue of ethics, but were deeply intertwined with Christian spirituality. For St. Clement, such concerns were an outgrowth of Divine Love. St. Clement admonishes the Corinthians “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ” because “Love unites us to God” and “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (49). Love mystically unites us with Christ our God, who suffered bodily death because of His love for us. He has taken us to Himself. It is right and meet then that we set aside our personal pride and abundant self-esteem to live in community and subject to His will. It is right and meet that we should sacrifice our personal excess to make up for the personal lack of others, for this is a far easier sacrifice than Christ’s crucifixion.

The Example of Tobit

The Old Testament Book of Tobit is an often overlooked part of Christian scriptures. In part, the neglect of Tobit can be explained by the Protestant rejection of significant sections of the Christian Old Testament, which included Tobit, despite the fact that Tobit and these other books were widely accepted as holy scripture by the early Church and are still part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures. While one may be a good Christian without ever having read Tobit, if we ignore Tobit, we lose a wonderful example of how to live a righteous life in the eyes of God, a life we Christians would do well to emulate.

Tobit takes place during the Assyrian exile, a time of hardship and persecution for the Israelites who had been taken from their homeland. The Israelites were forced to live among pagans, and according to Tobit, many chose to live and worship as the pagans did, but Tobit remained true to God and did not neglect his duty to care for others (Tobit 1:10-11). In Tobit 1:16-17 it is written:

In the days of Shalmaneser, I did much almsgiving to my brothers. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw anyone of my people dead, cast outside the wall of Nineveh, I would bury him.

Tobit did not allow his hardships to harden is heart. In fact, he was so compassionate that he was willing to make himself ritually unclean to bury his kinsmen who had been executed by the Assyrians and left to rot and be devoured by animals outside the walls of Nineveh. More than risking ritual uncleanliness, Tobit was breaking the law by burying executed Israelites and eventually had to flee for his own life while his possessions were confiscated (Tobit 1:18-20).

Tobit eventually returned to his home when the threat of his execution had been lifted. His family prepared a large feast in celebration, and when Tobit saw how much good food there was, he sent his son into town to find a poor person to share in their bounty (Tobit 2:1-2). Even after having hid for weeks in a cave, Tobit’s heart never turned from God or his neighbors. When he saw his own abundance he knew it could supply the need of another (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:14). But before he could find a fellow Israelite in need, Tobit’s son ran back to the house to tell his father that a man laid murdered in the street (Tobit 2:3). Without even touching his food, Tobit removed the body from the market place and buried it that night, even as his neighbors warned that the Assyrians might again seek to execute him for such an act (Tobit 2:4-8). Tobit is willing to sacrifice his life to do what is right even for those who, because they are dead, cannot possibly thank him or repay his selflessness.

Later, Tobit admonishes his son with this advice:

My son, remember the Lord our God all your days and do not desire to sin or to disobey His commandments. Do righteousness all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you walk in the truth, you will be successful in your works. Do almsgiving, do not let your eye be envious (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9). Do not turn your face away from any poor man, so the face of God will not be turned away from you (cf. Matthew 25:41-46). Do almsgiving based on the quantity of your possessions. If you possess only a few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. You are storing up a good treasure for yourself in the day of necessity (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). For almsgiving delivers us from death and prevents us from entering into the darkness. Indeed almsgiving is a good gift for all who do it before the Most High (cf. Hebrews 13:16).

Do not keep overnight the wages of any man who works for you, bu pay him immediately (cf. Deuteronomy 24:15). If you serve God, He will pay you. Give heed to yourself, my son, in all your works, and be disciplined in all your conduct. What you yourself hate, do not do to anyone (cf. Mark 12:31)…From your bread, give to him who is hungry and from your clothing, give to the naked (cf. Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, and James 2:15-17). If you have more than you need, do almsgiving, and do not let your eye envy the almsgiving when you do it.

(Tobit 4:5-11,14-15a,16)

We can see in the example of Tobit’s actions and his advice to his son a radical faith and righteousness. Tobit lived out his love for his neighbor even when he risked losing his life. In times of bounty and hardship alike he kept his heart focused on God and sought always to help those around him. He preached to his son the radical charity and almsgiving that is so characteristic of the New Testament. If Tobit could be so righteous even without the example of the Incarnate Christ, shouldn’t we strive to be even more so?

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and a couple videos

Rob Bell caused quite a controversy in 2011 when he published Love Wins, a book that had the temerity to suggest that God loves humanity, and that the central task facing Christians is to love God and to love our neighbors through real, concrete actions. Sadly, this work inspired a large amount of hostile, at times vitriolic, responses. When Love Wins was published, I had never heard of Rob Bell. I don’t come from an Evangelical background and had had fairly limited contact with Evangelical Christians, but even I couldn’t miss the buzz around Love Wins. One of the things I came across was this first video interview with Rob Bell, which I watched to get some idea of what his book was about:

“The book is about the urgency of Christ’s call to respond and live now and partner with God in bringing heaven to earth. The book is about the urgent, present availability of the kingdom, of eternal life now, of conscious connection and vibrant union with the good of the universe who wants to shape us and transform us and meld our hearts and do something about the hells on earth right now.”—Rob Bell

I really appreciated Bell’s emphasis in the interview on God’s love and God’s call to His followers act in the real world in real ways. I fear too often the message of love gets lost in messages of judgement and wrath and that the Christian duty to be a servant to our neighbors too often gets lost in people’s desire for comfort and overemphasis on the purely spiritual aspects of Christianity or the narcissistic and selfish emphasis on personal salvation. Yes, Jesus came to save individual sinners, but he also came to save all people and all Creation, and he asks us to participate in this salvation.

It took me a couple years to finally track down an audiobook copy of Love Wins and listen too it. I found the book to be inspiring and would like to explore it more deeply in a future post, once I can set aside some time to reread it. I’d recommend that any curious Christian who hasn’t yet read Love Wins check it out. Even if you don’t agree with some of the things (or most of the things) Rob Bell says, I think he raises some much needed questions about what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ.

For now, I’ll leave you with another video of Rob Bell from PBS, which unfortunately won’t embed in this post. And remember, even if you don’t care for Bell, God is Love (1 John 4:7) and Christ admonishes us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) for whatsoever we do to them we do unto Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2047496828/

The Tea Party and Ayn Rand versus Jesus Christ

This video imagines what a false Jesus would preach today if he were to stand on the National Mall and espouse the values of tea party Repbulicans and then contrasts those teachings with that of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The video is entertaining and manages to draw a clear line between Christianity and the tea party movement. However, it only tangentially alludes to the root of this difference when false-Jesus calls Ayn Rand his prophet. Herein, I will endeavor to make clear the foundational importance of Ayn Rand to tea party ideology and the contradictions between her philosophy, Objectivism, and authentic Christianity, which many of Rand’s admires still claim to confess.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is inextricably linked to the ideology of the tea party movement, and much of the contemporary Republican Party and many conservative political organizations. Paul Ryan, a professed Catholic, claimed Ayn Rand was the reason he got involved in public service and has said that:

“I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are…It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged…It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding principles are…there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.” (Audio available here)

Ron Paul, a professed Baptist, said Ayn Rand had a lot of influence on him.  His son Rand Paul, a Presbyterian, calls himself a “a big fan of Ayn Rand.”  Ted Cruz, a professed Baptist, read from Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged during his filibuster against Obamacare. Marco Rubio, a Catholic (or maybe a Baptist), read Atlas Shrugged twice during his first term in office. Ron Johnson, a Lutheran, called Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.” Michelle Malkin, a professed Catholic, hyped the links between the tea party and Ayn Rand. Rush Limbaugh, a Methodist, is fond of talking about Rand. Many tea party groups promoted the 2011 movie Atlas Shrugged, based on Rand’s most famous novel. The Heritage Foundation hosted a special screening of Atlas Shrugged. FreedomWorks claimed it helped bring the movie to the big screen. Even where these groups draw their ideas from sources other than Rand, they usually manage to find thinkers who largely reinforce a worldview espoused by Ayn Rand and her disciples.

Some of the tea party’s canonized saints, like St. Ronald Reagan the Great, a member of the Disciples of Christ and later the Presbyterian traditions, and St. Barry Goldwater the Forerunner, an Episcopalian, have expressed appreciation for Ayn Rand. Even some more “establishment” Republicans have voiced their appreciation of Rand.

But what is the trouble with Christians drawing on the ideas of Ayn Rand? Surely many Christians have drawn on philosophies outside of Christianity to clarify their faith. While that might be the case, there are two major problems with any attempt to marry the philosophy of Ayn Rand with Christianity. The first is that Rand’s ideas fundamentally contradict the teaching of Christ, his apostles, and the prophets. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27,35; Matthew 5:44). Ayn Rand said: “I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty” and that “You love those who deserve it.”

Another area where Rand diverges from Christ is on the issue of charity. Charity and giving are central to the Christian faith. Moses taught the importance of charity (Deuteronomy 14:22,28-29, 15:7-11, & 24:19-22). Christ commanded that we “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and St. John the Baptist proclaimed “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). St. Paul also taught the importance of giving (Hebrews 13:16) and Isaiah declared that aiding those in need was the form of worship God desired (Isaiah 58:6-7). Furthermore, Amos condemned those who ignored or exploited the poor (Amos 2:6-8) as did Christ in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31 ) and when He warned of His judgement to come (Matthew 25:31-46), St. John also condemns those who are uncharitable (1 John 3:17–18). But Rand told Playboy that:

My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Rand also differs with Christianity on the issue of wealth. St. Paul taught us the desire for wealth is evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10) as did Christ in his parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). St. James condemned the wealthy (James 5:1-6) as did Amos (Amos 6:1,4-7) as did Christ when he told his disciples  about how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-24),  and when he declared “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20). Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged:

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Christians are called to love all people and to do good for others even if it means suffering or death for oneself. Christ taught his disciples “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). St. Paul teaches “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Ayn Rand calls altruism and self-sacrifice “evil,” “immoral,” and “cannibalism”:

The second problem is that Ayn Rand was a vitriolic atheist. She openly hated Christianity and religion. In her novel Anthem Rand proclaimed that people should worship themselves: “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.'” She told the pornographic magazine Playboy that she believed faith was a “negation of reason” that was “very detrimental to human life.” In a television interview, she declared she was “against God” and calling religion a psychological weakness:

And Rand’s atheism isn’t some quirky side note of her philosophy; atheism is the corner stone of her philosophy; atheism is the root from which her philosophy grows. Rand once condemned the National Review as “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America” for daring to try and link capitalism and Christianity. Ayn idolized human reason and human wisdom as the wellspring of her philosophy. Rand goes so far as to specifically disparage Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross:

According to the Christian mythology, [Christ] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non-ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.

To preach the gospel of Ayn Rand while proclaiming oneself a Christian is an act of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. It is an open rebellion against God. Those who do so are false prophets, the wolves in sheep’s clothing Christ warned about and we know them by their evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). The dark, twisted, greed-driven philosophy of Ayn Rand can never be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus Christ, not even if we ignore her atheism. As Christ our Lord taught “You cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). We must either choose Christ or Rand. Let us pray that those who have fallen into the blasphemies of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy will repent and return to the Lord in both word and deed. Let us pray that those in the Republican Party and in conservative organizations across our nation publicly repudiate Rand’s philosophy and work to expunge her demonic teachings from their political goals and political works.

For more on how Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is antithetical to Christianity, check these out:

Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus

Ayn Rand Versus Christianity

Chuck Colson’s Two-Minute Warning: Atlas Shrugged and So Should You:

Christianity versus Objectivism

You Can’t Reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

Satanism and Objectivism

Ayn Rand’s Wikiquote page

Small Wonders: Two women and the call of Christ

Yesterday was a gray, dreary day where I live, the kind that it’s easy to feel down on. The morning was foggy and the afternoon was rainy. Fortunately, I had the blessing to encounter two women who reminded me of God’s call to service.

The met the first woman at a gas station. She was bent over the hot engine of her car struggling to loosen its oil cap. I intended to walk right on by when she turned and asked me for help. Her oil cap was immovably jammed into place. I was unable to make it budge even with two hands. I wished I could have helped her more, but the encounter was not without its reward. It reminded me that we are always surrounded by those in need of our help and even when our help is ineffective it may still provide a spiritual good. In this case, it reminded me of Christ’s call to love my neighbor unconditionally.

I met the second woman while walking from the library to my car, which was several blocks away. It was raining fairly hard and I had forgotten to take my umbrella with me. I managed to keep somewhat dry on the walk by ducking under awnings and passing through a parking garage, but was still fairly soaked when I heard a voice say softly behind me, “How much further do you have to go?” I turned around and there was this woman I had never met holding out her umbrella to me. We walked the last block to my car both half under the umbrella. I thanked her and she continued on her way. I was truly humbled. Here was this stranger, who sought me out to offer me help. By sharing her umbrella she exposed herself to the rain when she could have kept dry. She loved me, a stranger, enough to inconvenience herself for my benefit, and in so doing provided me with an example of how I should act to serve my neighbors.

Both these encounters reminded me that God calls us everyday to love Him through our neighbors. Sometimes this call is great such as the call Dorothy Day received when she founded the Catholic Worker with Peter Maurin or the call Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. answered as he emerged as a major leader in the civil rights movement. Other times, the call may be something small, like offering an umbrella to a stranger.

Love

If I were asked to sum all of Christian faith in a single word, I would answer, “Love.” Love is the center of Christian faith, ethics, understanding, and life. As St. John the Theologian tells us in his first epistle “God is love” and only those who know love know God (4:8). St. Paul tells us in Romans that if we love others, we have fulfilled the Law of God:

8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

To understand Christianity, to understand the most holy Trinity, to understand our faith’s ethical commandments, we must look always through the lens of love. Without love we walk in darkness, blundering and lost, but with love we walk in light with Christ as our guide.

St. John Chrysostom outlined beautifully some of the practical effects of true Christian love acting in the world in his 32nd homily on 1 Corinthians:

Wherefore also He saith to Peter, “If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep.” (John 21:16.)

And that ye may learn how great a work of virtue [love] is, let us sketch it out in word, since in deeds we see it no where appearing; and let us consider, if it were every where in abundance, how great benefits would ensue: how there were no need then of laws, or tribunals or punishments, or avenging, or any other such things since if all loved and were beloved, no man would injure another. Yea, murders, and strifes, and wars, and divisions, and rapines, and frauds, and all evils would be removed, and vice be unknown even in name. Miracles, however, would not have effected this; they rather puff up such as are not on their guard, unto vain-glory and folly.

Wherefore, having said, “The first and great commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” he added, “and the second—(He leaves it not in silence, but sets it down also)—is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And see how with nearly the same excellency He demands also this. For as concerning God, He saith, “with all thy heart:” so concerning thy neighbor, “as thyself,” which is tantamount to, “with all thy heart.”

Yea, and if this were duly observed, there would be neither slave nor free, neither ruler nor ruled, neither rich nor poor, neither small nor great; nor would any devil then ever have been known: I say not, Satan only, but whatever other such spirit there be, nay, rather were there a hundred or ten thousand such, they would have no power, while love existed. For sooner would grass endure the application of fire than the devil the flame of love. She is stronger than any wall, she is firmer than any adamant; or if thou canst name any material stronger than this the firmness of love transcends them all. Her, neither wealth nor poverty overcometh: nay, rather there would be no poverty, no unbounded wealth, if there were love, but the good parts only from each estate. For from the one we should reap its abundance, and from the other its freedom from care: and should neither have to undergo the anxieties of riches, nor the dread of poverty.

Therefore Paul saith, that the love which we are speaking of is the mother of all good things, and prefers it to miracles and all other gifts. For as where there are vests and sandals of gold, we require also some other garments whereby to distinguish the king: but if we see the purple and the diadem, we require not to see any other sign of his royalty: just so here likewise, when the diadem of love is upon our head, it is enough to point out the genuine disciple of Christ, not to ourselves only, but also to the unbelievers. For, “by this,” saith He, “shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35.) So that this sign is greater surely than all signs, in that the disciple is recognized by it.

Such is a world ruled by Christian love. It is a world without wealth or poverty, without rulers and laws, without oppression, injustice, or violence. In short it is the Kingdom of God. It is a far cry from the world in which we live, because to our shame, too few Christians practice Christian love. We are easily beset by our own daily cares, by personal differences, by sectarianism, and strife. Often we fail even to show our dearest loved ones true Christian love. We are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world, but Christ gave us his example of perfect love and perfect humanity. It is our duty as Christians to follow his example, to love everyone with our whole hearts, to love even to hardship and death. Only by giving of ourselves to our neighbor, to the destitute, to our enemies, can we put an end to suffering and sin. Only by giving of ourselves can we hope to be worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Only by giving of ourselves can we express our love for God and His creation just as God expressed His love for us when He became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazereth, was crucified, and then raised Himself from the dead, thus freeing us from death. Let us not merely love in word or in tongue, but let us love in deed and in truth, for St. John wrote:

20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4)